Computex 2024 just made the PC vs Mac fight more interesting – but I worry Apple will deflate my hype at WWDC 2024

Computex 2024 just made the PC vs Mac fight more interesting – but I worry Apple will deflate my hype at WWDC 2024

Computex 2024, the huge computing show in Taipei, Taiwan, is drawing to a close, and with Apple’s WWDC 2024 showcase mere days from starting (it kicks off on Monday, June 10), things have arguably never been more exciting in the world of laptops and computers.

However, what I’ve seen at Computex 2024 has me worried that WWDC could be a bit of a letdown, with rumors swirling that Apple won’t be announcing any new hardware at this year’s event. 

If that’s true, it could be a big missed opportunity.

(Image credit: Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock)

The ARM race

I’ve said many times before that the launch of Apple’s M1 chip back in 2020, alongside the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) and Mac mini (M1, 2020) was a seismic event in computing.

Apple’s shift from using Intel processors and integrated graphics to its own chips, built specifically for Macs and based on ARM (Advanced RISC Machines) architecture radically changed the landscape. Of course, it was a huge blow to Intel, which had been enjoying a huge market lead in both laptop and desktop processors. But it also proved that ARM-based computers were viable after years of disappointing Windows on ARM attempts.

This led to a golden age of Macs and MacBooks powered by the M1, then M2 and M3 chips. These ARM-based Macs offered excellent performance, long battery lives, robust compatibility with software originally designed for Intel hardware, and in the case of the MacBook Airs and Mac minis, excellent value for money – all things that Windows on ARM devices had failed to achieve.

Apple seemed to fall in love with Macs again, and critics and customers did as well. Meanwhile, Apple’s competitors were no doubt eyeing up its critical and commercial success with envy.

The exciting thing about 2024 so far is that it’s now clear that those competitors are ready to fight back, and at Computex 2024 we got an excellent idea of how they are going to take on Apple Macs.

As my colleague, Christian Guyon – who’s attending Computex, has pointed out, Qualcomm has turned out to be the real winner of Computex 2024.

Qualcomm is a huge company that many people might not have heard of, but it makes ARM-based chips that power a huge range of smart devices, especially smartphones and tablets. It’s also been working with Microsoft for years on trying to get Windows on ARM laptops off the ground – and in 2024, it looks like it might have finally pulled it off.

At Microsoft’s Build 2024 event, held just before Computex (blimey it’s been a busy year already!), the two companies lifted the lid on a new series of laptops featuring the Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite and X Plus chips, known as Windows Copilot+ PCs, from some of the biggest laptop brands in the world, including Dell and HP.

There, Microsoft also showed off its new Surface Pro 10 and Surface Laptop that are powered by Qualcomm’s chips. According to Microsoft, the new Surface Laptop features up to 22 hours of video playback with 15 hours of web browsing. It’s claimed to be twice as fast as Apple’s M3 MacBook series.

At Computex 2024, we were given closer looks at this new breed of laptops, and while we’ve not had a chance to properly benchmark the devices to see how they stack up to Microsoft and Qualcomm’s bullish claims, it’s clear laptop makers are serious about making ARM-based laptops and PCs a success.

For the past few days, rivals have been laying down the gauntlet – so I am excited to see Apple respond. The problem is, I don’t think we’ll see that at WWDC 2024.

Composite photo collage of upset stressed woman using a MacBook

(Image credit: Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock)

No new hardware blues

As usual, Apple is keeping the contents of its WWDC keynote presentation underwraps, but there are rumors that we won’t get any new hardware announcements. On the one hand, this isn’t too surprising as WWDC is, after all, a developers conference, so a focus on software is to be expected. However, at previous WWDC events Apple has announced the Vision Pro headset and new MacBooks and Macs.

With Computex showcasing so many rivals that are looking to challenge Apple’s ARM supremacy, WWDC 2024 would have been an ideal time for Apple to reveal a new generation of Macs and MacBooks that would quash any talk of competition from Windows-based machines.

We know that Macs powered by the new M4 chip must surely come at some point. At the moment, Apple’s latest slice of ARM silicon is only available in the iPad Pro (M4). Now, don’t get me wrong – I think the latest ‘professional’ iPad is an awesome piece of kit, as I said in my iPad Pro 2024 review, but the power and potential of the M4 feels a bit wasted on a tablet that uses a mobile operating system (iPadOS). Putting the M4 into a MacBook or Mac will really show what the new chip is capable of.

So, Apple not having something like that to show off at WWDC and steal the thunder of its rivals’ Computex announcements, would definitely be a missed opportunity. Of course, the claims about no new hardware at WWDC are just rumors right now – Apple could surprise us all. But those rumors are convincing, and with no believable leaks about imminent M4-powered Macs, I’m increasingly inclined to believe the tipsters.

As a MacBook fan, I’m bracing myself for disappointment at WWDC 2024 – but I am also worried that if Apple has paid any attention to Computex 2024 (probably unlikely, as it doesn’t strike me as a company that pays much attention to events it’s not at), it may take the wrong lessons from it.

Enough AI, already

One of the biggest themes from Computex 2024 has been artificial intelligence, with almost all laptop and PC makers keen to showcase how their upcoming products will feature AI tools – and a lot of that ties into the resurgence of ARM hardware at the show. Back at Build, Microsoft and Qualcomm heralded the start of a new AI era, with new chips that feature Neural Processing Units (NPUs) which are promised to help with on-device AI workloads.

It’s not just Qualcomm that’s making AI-capable components, with Intel, AMD and especially Nvidia pushing their advancements in artificial intelligence.

The problem is, I feel there is a huge gap between the excitement PC makers have about AI, and excitement from customers. Despite Microsoft pushing its Copilot AI assistant into all corners of Windows 11, I never use it. The tech might be impressive, but it hasn’t explained to me why I should use it daily, or how it can improve my life.

So when I see laptop makers getting all hot and heavy over AI, I’m left thinking: ‘So what?’

And so far, I’ve just not seen other people that bothered. If you’re looking to buy a new laptop, your priorities likely remain price, performance and battery life. Its AI capabilities aren’t going to even register. Of course, laptop makers want people buying more laptops, so I can understand why they want to push AI as a reason to upgrade – but so far they’ve done a terrible job of explaining or showing why I should buy a new laptop to make use of AI. Computex 2024 was a good chance to change this, but with the event drawing to a close, I’m still not convinced.

Most people – myself included – expect WWDC 2024 to be focussed on AI as well, with Apple likely showing how it’s coming to Macs and iPhones. If that is the case, then I want Apple to do something different and show why I should care about AI in macOS.

Instead, I worry that Apple’s AI enthusiasm will come from seeing so many of its rivals embrace AI. To be fair to Apple, it’s actually been ahead of the AI game for a while, with its M-series ARM chips having featured an NPU (known as the Neural Engine) for years now.

But there’s been a feeling, perhaps unfairly, that Apple is playing catchup with AI. However, I don’t want Apple to go all in on AI just because others are. If the company is going to take any lessons from Computex 2024, then it shouldn’t just talk about how revolutionary AI can be – it needs to show us how it can change our lives.

Apple has a reputation for coming to a technology late, improving on it and successfully marketing it to a mainstream audience. Can it do the same with AI at WWDC 2024? Perhaps, though I’d still rather see some new MacBooks instead.

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